Conseil d’État orders easing of French ban on public worship

Decree No. 2020-548 issued on May 11, 2020, by the Prime Minister set out the general measures necessary to deal with the COVID-19 epidemic in France. Article 10-III provides that during the period of confinement, all gatherings or meetings within places of worship are prohibited with the exception of funeral ceremonies – which are limited to twenty people

In a judgment on 18 May, MW et autres (Nos 440366 et suivants) [link here], the judge of urgent summary applications [juge des référés] of the French Conseil d’État has ordered the French Government to lift the absolute blanket ban on assembling in places of worship and to substitute measures strictly proportionate to the health risks and appropriate at the beginning of easing the lockdown [déconfinement].

The judgment recalls that freedom of worship, which is a fundamental freedom, also includes among its essential components the right to participate collectively in ceremonies, in particular in places of worship – but it must be reconciled with the constitutional value of the protection of health. The judgment notes that less stringent supervisory measures are possible than the ban on all gatherings in places of worship provided for by the decree of 11 May 2020 ­– in particular given that the same decree allows for gatherings of fewer than ten people in other places open to the public.

The judgment concludes that the general and absolute prohibition is disproportionate in regard to the objective pursued – that of preserving public health – and therefore constitutes a serious and manifestly unlawful interference with freedom of worship.

The judgment enjoins the Prime Minister

“to modify, within eight days of notification of this order, the application of Article L. 3131-15 of the Code de la Santé Publique, the provisions of section III of Article 10 of Decree n° 2020-548 of 11 May 2020, by taking measures strictly proportional to the health risks incurred and appropriate to the circumstances of time and place applicable at this beginning of “déconfinement“, to supervise the gatherings and meetings in places of worship:

[Article 3: Il est enjoint au Premier ministre de modifier, dans un délai de huit jours à compter de la notification de la présente ordonnance, en application de l’article L. 3131-15 du code de la santé publique, les dispositions du III de l’article 10 du décret n° 2020-548 du 11 mai 2020, en prenant les mesures strictement proportionnées aux risques sanitaires encourus et appropriées aux circonstances de temps et de lieu applicables en ce début de «déconfinement», pour encadrer les rassemblements et réunions dans les établissements de culte.]

Agence France Presse suggests that “It remains to be seen what move the government will take to respect the decision while retaining a safe environment in churches, mosques and other places of worship.”

[With thanks to BYU Law’s Law and Religion Headlines]

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Conseil d’État orders easing of French ban on public worship" in Law & Religion UK, 19 May 2020,

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